Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017GA374B

Developing real-time sensor networks for monitoring stream water quality to improve water resource management

Institute: Georgia
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $17,924 Total Non-Federal Funds: $47,654

Principal Investigators: Seth Wenger, Amy Rosemond, John Dowd, Phillip Bumpers

Abstract: State and local governments are tasked under the Clean Water Act with monitoring water resources to determine whether their designated uses (e.g., fishing, drinking water, recreation) are being met. A key challenge is detecting contamination events in a timely manner. This is usually limited by the personnel resources of local governments, since the traditional method of data collection is to take grab samples in person, or (less commonly) to periodically download data from sensors. Moreover, urban areas create a particularly challenging environment to monitor and improve water quality because of the myriad sources of impairment and pollution. Many pollutants associated with urbanization increase dissolved ion concentrations (e.g, Ca2+, Na+, NO3-, HCO3-, Cl-), thus elevating specific conductance in streams. Therefore, specific conductance may be an effective way to detect a broad range of chemical or sediment inputs in a stream reach and could serve as a monitoring tool for water resource managers. Incorporating conductivity probes into a sensor network that utilizes cell phone and telemetry technology to transmit results to computers in real time could prove particular useful. Here, in collaboration with the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government (ACCUG), we propose piloting and implementing real-time sensor networks to monitor conductivity of streams in Athens, GA. The proposed work and collaboration with ACCUG will build on existing research in the area that is aimed at understanding the spatial and temporal patterns of conductivity in Piedmont streams. We will deploy a sensor network in streams in ACC to further explore the utility and practicality of real-time conductivity monitoring to detect pollution events and monitor water quality. The project will yield high resolution data with the goal to inform management decisions in ACC and support rapid detection and response to contamination events. The network could also be used to monitor aging sewer infrastructure to minimize the impact of sewage leaks into local streams and rivers. Ultimately, we believe this project can serve as a model for real-time monitoring programs in Georgia and beyond.